Low Cost Ways to Improve Your Impression, Part I
by Galen Wagner
This article is an attempt to offer the reenactors some low
cost ways to improve your impression and get closer to accurately portraying the
soldier of the war. I am in no way perfect, and would never claim to be, but
offer these suggestions for your review. A lot of this information is borrowed
from articles, books, or writings of other reenactors. I will not attempt to
note every source. I thank the writers of these references beforehand, and hope
we can take their words and become better living historians.
Change your goal in the field : Your goal in the field should be
accurate portrayal of the soldier of 1861-1865, not dressing up to play soldier.
If you are not willing to make every effort to do this you will always be a
reenactor, and never a living historian. Study photographs, as many as you can
get your hands on, and do as the soldiers did, look the way they looked. There a
numerous sources of photographs but I caution you not to put to much faith in
the text. First person accounts are available in massive quantities and are much
better sources than books written by modern day authors. Who better to tell it
than the soldier who lived it?
2. Donít Stand Out: Donít embarrass yourself and everybody else with lone suicide charges, theatrical hits, or by acting bulletproof. Act as though you are really under fire and scared to death.
3. When You Take a Hit, Act Dead or Wounded: Not like you are a spectator at a football game. If you canít lay there and be dead, get up limp to the rear, smoke your cigarette and drink your mountain dew. Donít lay out on the field within earshot of the crowd and talk and laugh.
4. Lose the Hat Brass : Donít load your hat up with a bunch of letters, numbers, coon tails, coon bones, feathers, conchos, Indian bead bands, etc. Again study the photos of period soldiers, not the early war portraits, both Union and Confederate in the field throughout the war.
5. Wear Your Gear In a Period Manner: Wear your gear as the soldiers did. Cartridge box, waist belt high on your natural waist, haversack riding high outside of your belt ( look at the pictures ) , canteen high. If you wear a knapsack or blanket roll, your canteen strap should be over the top of either ( for ease of drinking and filling on the march; makes sense doesnít it.) When in camp, wear your shell or frock with at least the top button buttoned ( again, look at the pictures )
6. Donít Wear Railroad Bandanas: The modern day railroad bandana tied around your neck like Jesse James is a reenactorism that has gotten out of hand. I challenge anyone to provide a period reference to this practice. If you absolutely must tie a cloth around your neck, buy some authentic shirting material and make a kerchief out of it.
7. Do Not Wear Your Socks Bloused All The Time: This is not an incorrect practice, just overdone. There are far more photographs of soldiers wearing rolled up cuffs. Socks of the day were not elasticized like those today. This would have quickly stretched and ruined your socks. Also it would have allowed dirt and rocks to get down into your shoes easily and would have been uncomfortable on the march. Save the leggings and gaiters for the new fish to cover combat boots.
8. Do Not Send Your Uniform to The Cleaners to Have It Cleaned and Pressed: Soldiers very rarely got the chance to wash there uniforms, much less press them. A cast iron would have been awful heavy in the oleí knapsack. References suggest uniforms literally rotted off of soldiers on the campaign ( 3 months seems to be a good time frame ). I figure that in a year of reenacting we wear our gear 30 days. That means it takes us two years to get 2 months worth of wear. Why clean you r uniform and destroy that campaign look you took two years to achieve.
9. Lose Weight : The average man of the period weighed about 160 lbs. A month on the campaign would sweat the pounds right off. There were large framed heavy men, but they were rare. ( If anyone has figured out how to do this let me know!!!!)
10. Cut Your Hair: Vermin were ramped in both Union and Confederate camps. I suggest that long hair would have been an unbearable nest for lice, crabs, fleas etc. Also shorter hair would have made hygiene easier on those long hot, very hot Virginia campaigns. They didnít have an Air Conditioner to go back to at the end of the weekend.